“The Host Breaks & the Guest Blesses”: An Investigation of the Babylonian Talmud’s Blessing of a Guest for One’s Meal Host

July 22, 2019 0 By Rabbi Drew

The appreciation a guest has for one’s host at a meal is to reciprocate in some way.  While in contemporary times, one would thank one’s host for the nutrition provision, in the Bible and in the Talmud, the appropriate course of action would be to bless one’s host.  Furthermore, as has been pointed out, “[w]ords at the Jewish meal, even apart from the particular foods eaten, are one of the main features that distinguish Jewish meals as Jewish.”[1]  The rabbis of the Talmud provide one such blessing, yet in recent times, it has fallen somewhat out of use.[2] So, what is this Talmudic blessing for one’s host?

The Babylonian Talmud records the following of Rabbi Yohanan indirectly quoting Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai, something not uncommon in the Babylonian Talmud[3] (Berakhot 46a):

אמר ר’ יוחנן משום ר’ שמעון בן יוחי בעל הבית בוצע ואורח מברך
בעל הבית בוצע כדי שיבצע בעין יפה
ואורח מברך כדי שיברך בעל הבית

Rabbi Yohanan said from Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai’s name: “The host breaks bread and the guest blesses.
The master of the household breaks bread, so that he breaks bread with a pleasant eye (i.e. generously),
and the guest says the blessing, so that he may bless the host.”

While it is clear that the first line – “The host breaks bread and the guest blesses” – is Rabbi Yohanan quoting from Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai’s name, it is somewhat unclear if the reasoning provided is also intended to be Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai’s quote, or if that is Rabbi Yohanan’s addition. Another ambiguity is which blessing is the guest expected to bless? It would seem there are only two possibilities:[4] either the blessing over the bread [at the outset of the meal] or the sustenance blessing [at the conclusion of the meal]. Since the language used seems to be packaged together, it would seem that the guest is to say the blessing over the bread at the outset of the meal, with the host physically breaking the bread [and distributing it].[5]

The Talmud then inquires as to what the blessing should be,[6] a line of blessing is stated (Berakhot 46a):

יהי רצון שלא יבוש בעל הבית בעולם הזה ולא יכלם לעולם הבא

May it be desirous [from before the Lord our God][7] that the host be neither ashamed in this world, nor disgraced in the world to come.

This one-line blessing expresses a blessing for the host, although it’s unclear who is articulating it: is it intended as a continuation of Rabbi Yohanan indirectly quoting Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai, is it simply Rabbi Yohanan adding this blessing, or is it the anonymous arrangers of the Talmud? In any event, it seems that it would have been directly attached to the blessing over the bread, thus yielding two lines of blessing by the guest: the first line the blessing over the bread, followed by this supplicatory blessing for the host. The effect, it would seem, of this second line would be to cause feelings of good will to be shared and to be enjoyed at the outset and throughout the meal. It is interesting that the expression of this blessing is one of feeling, relating to shame and disgrace, which often appear with each other.[8]

Immediately following the above, it is mentioned that Rabbi Yehudah the Prince added the following (Berakhot 46a):

ורבי מוסיף בה דברים
ויצלח מאד בכל נכסיו
ויהיו נכסיו ונכסינו מוצלחים וקרובים לעיר
ואל ישלוט שטן לא במעשי ידיו ולא במעשי ידינו
ואל יזדקר[9] לא לפניו ולא לפנינו שום דבר הרהור חטא ועבירה ועון מעתה ועד עולם

And Rabbi added words onto it:
And may he be very successful with all of his properties,
And may his properties be successful and close to the city,
And may Satan not rule over his handiwork, nor over ours,
And may neither he nor we confront any temptation to sin, transgress, or commit a sin from now until forever.

Why did Rabbi Yehudah the Prince decide to add these lines?  Also, did he mean to do this addition for himself or did he mean for this to be done by everybody?

It is unclear what may have been lacking in the previous formulation to which he decided to add these lines.  Also, when one opens up one’s meal, one is usually hungry, so adding in four additional lines to the previous two makes for a longer waiting time just to get to one’s beginning of eating. One wonders why Rabbi Yehudah the Prince thought it would be acceptable to launch into an additional four lines of blessing, yielding a total of six lines of blessing (blessing over the bread, initial line of blessing for the host, followed by his four lines). Also unclear is whether these additional lines were meant to be said by everyone or just simply a special practice of his.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at the content of these four lines, the first two of which bless the host for material success, while the latter two bless him for moral success. It makes great sense that one would bless one’s bread-breaking host for material success as they are sharing the results of their material success with the guest and one blesses the host to receive more – it’s a direct connection. As to the reference of properties being close to the city, it is like what Rav’s students told Rabbi Abba about Deuteronomy 28:6 that one’s property should be close to the city (Bava Mezia 107a), which, as Rashi comments, so that it should not be so laborious to bring in one’s fruits.[10] For the moral success aspects, it seems that one would want this person to also be morally successful and not struggle in doing right in their lives. As far as Satan goes, the character rarely appears[11] and “with few exceptions, Satan similarly appears merely as the impersonal force of evil.”[12]

How this set of texts plays out in practice, though, is a bit curious, as this set of apodictic texts is introduced by an anonymously told story about a couple of third generation amoraim (Berakhot 46a):

רבי זירא חלש על לגביה רבי אבהו קביל עליה אי מתפח קטינא חריך שקי עבידנא יומא טבא לרבנן אתפח עבד סעודתא לכולהו רבנן
כי מטא למשרי אמר ליה לרבי זירא לישרי לן מר
אמר ליה לא סבר לה מר להא דרבי יוחנן דאמר בעל הבית בוצע
שרא להו
כי מטא לברוכי אמר ליה נבריך לן מר
אמר ליה לא סבר לה מר להא דרב הונא דמן בבל דאמר בוצע מברך

Rabbi Zera had backpains [and] Rabbi Abbahu accepted upon himself [a vow, saying], “If the little one with scorched legs heals, I will make a celebration for the rabbis.”  He healed and [Rabbi Abbahu] made a feast for all of the rabbis.
When they were ready to break bread, [Rabbi Abbahu] said to Rabbi Zera, “Master, please break for us.”
He said to him, “Does the master not concur with the statement of Rabbi Yohanan, who said, ‘The master of the household is the one who breaks bread’?”
He then broke the bread for them.
When it came to blessing [the nourishment blessing], [Rabbi Abbahu] said to [Rabbi Zera], “Will the master say the blessing for us?”
He said to him, “Does the master not concur with the statement of Rav Huna of Babylonia, who said, ‘The one who breaks bread says the blessing’?”

With that, the story concludes, with the reader to infer that Rabbi Abbahu ended up blessing the Nourishment Blessing to conclude the meal.  One interesting piece of this story is that “the inclusion of that detail about the context of the legal discussion amplifies the theme of giving thanks overall to God since that was the point of the meal, and it is also the point of the halakhic point being discussed.”[13]

While the story above had concluded, the pericope, however, had not.  The editor thereupon queries, “And whose view does [Rabbi Abbahu] take?” as it would be difficult to conceive that Rabbi Abbahu simply was unaware of this opinion, but rather opined like another rabbi.  The editor then suggests our central text, that of Rabbi Yohanan quoting what he had heard in Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai’s name, thus justifying Rabbi Abbahu’s offer to Rabbi Zera to recite the Nourishment Blessing.

What’s going on with these 3rd generation Israeli amoras?  Why didn’t they know what Rabbi Yohanan said?  Why only the part about the host breaking the bread?  What’s going on with Rav Huna also not hearing Rabbi Yohanan’s statement?  He really says that the one who breaks the bread blesses it.

What is also somewhat curious is the seeming obfuscation taking place regarding the blessing the guest is to bless, as well as to append his particular blessing of appreciation – is it over ברכת המוציא at the outset of the meal or is it over ברכת המזון at the conclusion of the meal. From Rabbi Yohanan’s indirect quotation of Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai, it would seem that it is appended to ברכת המוציא, as a one-liner, with the guest voicing the words with the host physically breaking the bread. However, from the story, it would seem that when Rabbi Abbahu asks Rabbi Zera to bless, it seems to be regarding the ברכת המזון.

This also makes the reader wonder if Rabbi Yehudah the Prince’s verbal additions were intended not to be appended to ברכת המוציא, but to ברכת המזון, since these amoraim are discussing “blessing” to be regarding ברכת המזון.

Nevertheless, it would seem that the original intention of Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai, as indirectly quoted by Rabbi Yohanan was to have the guest make the blessing over bread at the outset of the meal and to append a one-line blessing directed towards the host, yielding a positive convivial environment.

[1] Jonathan D. Brumberg-Kraus, “Meals as Midrash: A Survey of Ancient Meals in Jewish Studies Scholarship,” in Food and Judaism: A Special Issue of Studies in Jewish Civilization, vol. 15, Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual Symposium of the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization – Harris Center for Judaic Studies, October 27-28, 2002, eds. Leonard J. Greenspoon, Ronald A. Simkins, Gerald Shapiro (Omaha, NE: Creighton University Press, 2005), 205.

[2] Rabbi Michael Taubes, “Blessing One’s Host During Bentshing,” for the Bergen County Beis Medrash Program (Teaneck, NJ, 13 November 2003) (Originally accessed from YUTorah on 3 January 2008; now available at https://download.yutorah.org/2003/905/705159.MP3):

Here, you have an open [statement in the] gemarra (Talmud), you have a [statement in what] Rambam [wrote], you have a [statement in what was written in the] Shulhan Arukh – no arguments, no mahlokes, so why in the world don’t we do it?  Most people don’t do it.  You open up most siddurim (prayer books), most bentschers (Grace After Meals guides), until recently – although it’s started now to creep back in – but, until certainly 10 years ago and less, and you look at old siddurim… it doesn’t appear anywhere.

[3] Other instances in which Rabbi Yohanan quotes from Rabbi Shimon, son of Yohai’s name in the Babylonian Talmud are Shabbat 118b, Shevuot 18b, Kidushin 57b, Pesahim 87b, Arakhin 17a, Arakhin 10a, Eruvin 64b, Sanhedrin 46b, Sanhedrin 39b, Sanhedrin 24a, Sanhedrin 90b, Sukkah 29b-30a, Sotah 42a, Sotah 32b, Niddah 56a, Niddah 21b, Ketuvot 52b, Keritut 27a, Yoma 5b, Yevamot 97a, Berakhot 43b, Berakhot 55a, Bezah 16a, Bava Mezia 58b, Bava Mezia 27a, Bava Batra 109b, five on Berakhot 7b (the last of which is also found on Megillah 6b), and Berakhot 31a.

[4] I am open to any other possibilities out there, but it really seems as if it is one of two possibilities.

[5] On the juxtaposition of the terms בוצע and מברך in the context of breaking bread, see especially where Rabbi Hiyya said, “One needs to complete the blessing along with the bread” (Berakhot 39a) and where Rava says, “One blesses and then breaks the bread” (Berakhot 39b).  Additionally, see also Rabbah bar bar Hannah’s statement that “One who breaks bread is not permitted to break the bread until ‘amen’ finishes from the mouths of the answerers” (Berakhot 47a).  See also what a repeater of texts taught before Rav Nahman, son of Yizhak: “Place the slice within the whole one and break and bless” (Berakhot 39b).  In fact, none of the usages of בוצע (aside from the story which will be mentioned further on) in the Babylonian Talmud imply also blessing (cf. Chaim Joshua Kasowski, Thesaurus Talmudis: Concordantiae Veerborum quae in Talmude Babylonico Reperiuntur [in Hebrew], vol. 8 [Jerusalem: The Ministry of Education and Culture, Government of Israel & The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1959], 721-722 for a listing of uses of בוצע in the Babylonian Talmud).  While Marcus Jastrow translated בוצע as “to cut, break,” he then went on to define it as “esp. to break bread and say the blessing” (Jastrow, p. 184).  Jastrow cites three Talmudic examples, Hullin 7b, Berakhot 46a and 47a, the latter two of which are juxtaposed with מברך (make a blessing) and the context of the first is unclear, so it is not clearly established that בוצע means to bless in addition to cutting the bread.  It is also interesting here to consider the various English translations of this phrase.  Maurice Simon translated it as “the guest says grace so that he should bless the host” (Maurice Simon, trans., Berakoth: Translated into English with Notes, Glossary and Indices, vol. 1, The Babylonian Talmud, ed. Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein [London: The Soncino Press, 1948], 279) and also translated similarly as “the guest recites Bircas HaMazon, so that he should bless the host” (Rabbi Mendy Wachsman, trans., Tractate Berachos, vol. 2, Talmud Bavli, ed. Rabbi Yisroel Simcha Schorr and Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz [Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 1997], n.p.), both of which assume that the blessing in question is the Grace After Meals.  Both of the aforementioned seem to be assuming that when the host breaks the bread, he is also saying the blessing over the bread, leaving only one blessing left for the guest to make.  However, Jacob Neusner translated it as “the guest says the blessing, so that he may include in his blessing words for the householder” (Jacob Neusner, trans. Tractate Berakhot, vol. 1, The Talmud of Babylonia: An American Translation [Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1984], 312), which still leaves some room for ambiguity for which blessing is being discussed.

[6] The phrasing used here of מאי מברך? is found six times throughout this tractate in editorial comments (11a, 11b, 38b, 46a, 54b, and 59a) and 11 times elsewhere throughout the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 23a, Pesahim 7a, Pesahim 106a, Sukah 46a, Ta’anit 6b, Megillah 21b (2X), Ketubot 7b (2X), Sotah 39a, and Menahot 43b).  It is interesting to note that, in some of the manuscripts (MS Paris 671, MS Oxford Opp. Add. Fol. 23, and MS Bodleian Heb. C. 16 (2660) 3-4), this question is changed to Hebrew (מה מברך?), perhaps reflecting an uncomfortability with an editorial injection, rather than having Rabbi Yohanan, himself, asking it.

[7] Although only MS Florence II-I-7 and MS Munich 95 display this language, it seems that it should be included, as the guest is requesting it be desirous from before the Lord, not the host.  This term of “from before the Lord” following “may it be desirous” is a common component in Tannaitic formulations (Avot 5:20, Bava Mezia 42a, Berakhot 19a, Berakhot 28b, Sifrei Zuta 11:9 (sometimes without the mention of the Lord (Sifrei Bamidbar 89, Yerushalmi Ta’anit 3:9, Ta’anit 23a)), although it is also not included in others (Berakhot 9:3, Tamid 7:3, Tosefta Berakhot 3:7, Tosefta Berakhot 6:2, Sifrei Bamidbar 143, Hagigah 3b, Shabbat 119b).  In Amoraic texts, it commonly appears (Yerushalmi Berakhot 1:5, Yerushalmi Berakhot 3:6, Yerushalmi Berakhot 5:1, Yerushalmi Ta’anit 2:4, Yerushalmi Yoma 5:2, Yerushalmi Yoma 8:7, Berakhot 16b, Yoma 53b, Shabbat 30b, Sotah 39a (although sometimes without the mention of the Lord (Sotah 22a and Yoma 87b)), but it is not universal (Bava Kamma 93a, Berakhot 7a, Yevamot 96b, Ketubot 104a, Megillah 28a, Ta’anit 5b).
For more on the formulation of יהי רצון in rabbinic literature, see Shlomo Zuckier’s “Acceptable to Will: The Rabbinic Transformation of ר.צ.ה in Sacrifice and Prayer,” Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, 7:4 (2019): 430-448, especially his assertion that the formulation of “יהי רצון מלפניך” is an earlier form than “יהי רצון” since “it closely paraphrases Ps 19:15 and seems more coherent. As the formula gained popularity and became ossified, the term מלפניך fell out at times, yielding the shorter version.”

[8] Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, vol. 1 (New York & London: Putnam & Luzac, 1903; New York: The Judaica Press, 1996), 642. Furthermore, the twin phrasing of בושה and כלימה appears in blessings/prayers by Rav (Berakhot 16b), Rava (Berakhot 17a), and Rav Hamnuna (Yoma 87b).

[9] In MSS Florence II-I-7, Munich 95, Paris 671, this is the word witnessed, while Oxford Opp. Add. fol. 23 preserves יזדקק (

[10] Rashi, Bava Metzia 107a, s.v. kerovim l’ir.

[11] In Tannaitic literature, Satan appears in Tosefta Avodah Zarah 1:18, Sifra Shemini 1:3, Sifrei Devarim Ki Teze 218: 18, Yevamot 16a, Nedarim 32a, Gitin 52a, and Sanhedrin 89b (Rabbi Yohanan from the name of Yabbi Yose, son of Zimra).

[12] Louis Isaac Rabinowitz, “Satan,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 18, eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), 72.

[13] Lynn Kaye, personal e-mail, 28 January 2008.